This Native American Scholarship Recipient Says, “Keep Going”

Posted on: October 10, 2023

Kayla McCloskey will graduate in May of 2024 from Black Hills State University (BHSU) with a double major in American Indian Studies and Sociology. She is ready to take on the future. A 2018 graduate of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s High School Program, McCoskey is an eight-time recipient of the school’s scholarship, which was started in 1985 to support Native Americans pursuing higher education.

McCloskey is one of 106 Native American scholars nationwide receiving a total of $129,950 in fall-semester funding. The awards bring the total for the calendar year to a record $224,950. This fall, the school granted awards to 22 St. Joseph’s alums, 12 alum family members and 72 other scholars enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and pursuing higher education.

The path to a college degree was not always on McCloskey’s road map. After high school, she joined the National Guard to support her education but was hurt in basic training. “The military’s motto is to break you down to build you up stronger than before. It did break me,” she laughs, “and I learned it wasn’t a fit for me. But, it still made me stronger in a different sense,” she said.

COVID-19 also interrupted her plans, explained St. Joseph’s Indian School Alumni Liaison, Krista Lepkowski. The Lakota have a word, “kihelakayo” – keep going. Kayla’s advice to other young students echoes this expression, “You have to keep going,” she said. “When you aren’t sure what you want to do, take a year; work a job; and decide what you want to do.”

At present, McCloskey, daughter of Christina Marshall and Willus McCloskey of St. Francis, S.D., is studying for midterms. If the double major isn’t enough to keep her busy, she adds three part-time jobs: one in Sustainability, an environmentally focused program for which BHSU is widely recognized; one as a mentor; and a regular shift in the campus cafeteria. “Oh, and I am co-president of Lakota Omniciye,” noted McCloskey. The group seeks to bridge the cultural gaps between non-Native and Native students and raises funds for an annual powwow.

St. Joseph’s Indian School created the scholarship program to benefit Native American students pursuing higher education. Through the generosity of donors, the school has awarded scholarship dollars to Native American students since 1985. Financial need and academic performance are the basis for determining the awards. Applications are due each fall and spring and are awarded based on proof of tribal enrollment, number of applicants and available funds. Also considered are returning scholars who are continuing their education journey.